Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Syndrome

All of a sudden, people who can't tell a cardinal from a monsignor, or a gospel from an epistle, feel perfectly comfortable pontificating about the Catholic Church's alleged conspiracy to suppress the story of Jesus' supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene.

The source of this malady? The DaVinci Code Syndrome. The symptoms are factless obsession with the Opus Dei, incongruous suppositions about the monolithic unity of the Catholic clergy, and conclusions drawn from fiction that don't hold water to the simplest critical analysis.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of sharp rocks of my own to hurl at Rome's stained glass windows, but these cream puffs from Dan Brown's work ... amateur hour!

The Opus Dei (Latin for "Work of God"), in which my mother and one of my colleagues once held the lowly rank of "cooperators," is indeed a hide-bound organization led by Spanish, fascistoid ninnies who delight in all manner of subtle code words and secrets. Their members once held a majority in the cabinet of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. They are exerting influence today on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and other Catholic, right-wing officials in Washington, and they have their point men in the Vatican. The Opus has an uncanny amount of money and assets; on occasion they have been blamed for the kind of brainwashing that made the Moonies and similar cults suspect.

Yet -- Deo gratias (Latin for "thank God") -- the Opus Dei does not yet control the Catholic Church by a long shot. To get a realistic sense of this, I recomment you read one of the best articles available today on the subject, written -- oh, surprise! -- by a Jesuit. Find it here.

As to the clergy, I wholeheartedly agree with Emile Zola that "civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest." Yet the Catholic clergy -- as its most recent set of scandals amply shows -- are a motley group of solipsistic egotists, mediocrities who could never make it in secular life, and an occasional exceptional talent as the exception to bolster the rule. The latter are often found in religious orders, such as the Jesuits, whom several popes felt they had to suppress to keep control.

Clergy plot? Good luck with that.

Finally, there's the whole-cloth story of Mary of Magdala, wife of Jesus, which is extremely old and hoary. In the past century alone it was floated as a revival of the 1956 Priory of Zion hoax in the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. More memorably for literature, a more intriguing and less conspiracy-ridden version of such a relationship appeared in the 1951 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ, for which the Greek Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1955.

Still, there is no independent evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived (or for that matter, Moses or Abraham), let alone a woman whose story is a wispy thread as a cameo player in the Galilean woodworker's drama. This is all fantasy and, in Kazantzakis' case, good literature.

So it annoys me no end when some wannabe Vaticanologists, who don't know spit, throw some easily dodged shots that make idiots of all Church critics. It gives apostasy a bad name.
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